Tag Archives: editing

How to streamline your manuscript

Caveat: I’m a huge proponent of each writer using or discarding writing advice as fits THEM, and only THEM, so the following info doesn’t work for you, please delete from brain.

That being said, I want to share my process on how I recently took a 160k word manuscript to 126k without killing myself or the heart of the story. I’m a character writer. I love immersing myself into places and relationships, and playing out heart stories within epic worlds and situations. That can lead to a lot of extra words that aren’t always the most plot-relevant. It can slow down the story a lot. So, if you’re like me, and struggle with some massive word counts, I hope this will help you find some tools of your own.

True to my own colors, this post is pretty long, so buckle up, folks. I’ve added a bunch of gifs to make it more fun.

Photo Credit: Annie Spratt, Unsplash

Background: I’ve probably talked this to death by now, but in 2018 the press originally set to publish my Obsidian Divide series and I amicably split. After that, I decided to completely rewrite the manuscript by myself, because I’d developed a lot as a writer in the three years since the manuscript originally went under contract. I ripped things out and rewrote them A LOT, and at the end of it, discovered my word count shot through the roof to 160,000 words. Haaaaaaa.

I’d like to try to go the traditional route of publishing with this novel, and I knew 160k words is high enough that agents might dismiss it outright without even reading it. As I initially thought the manuscript would be Young Adult in category, I knew I needed to get the word count down to around 100,000. So, taking out 50-60k words. Without killing my story in the process.

If you follow me on Instagram you might have already seen some of how I tackled the huge-workcount issue. I’ve posted about it in Stories about it if you’d prefer to see it in that form. But I discuss it more in depth below.

STEP ONE

  • To get a top-down view of what I had to work with, I wrote an outline of all chapters and scenes of the manuscript, with a sentence or two describing each.
  • I also exported the manuscript into Word (I had been working in Scrivner) to get a page count. Then I divided the words I need to cut (working with a goal of 100k, that was 50-60k) by the total number of pages (543) to get how many words per needed to be cut per page. This ended up being 93-110 words per page (60/543=110ish, 50/543=93ish). Cutting 93-110 word per page sounds a lot less intimidating than cutting 50-60k words (which is an entire Middle Grade book, just FYI).

STEP TWO

  • Seeing the manuscript via a top-down outline, I could highlight which scenes were not directly integral to the plot. Or, said in another way, which ones didn’t really build on the last scene or lead into the next. This was pretty enlightening. Then I knew what I could cut.
  • Now understanding I needed to cut 93-110 words per page, I could use it as a goal as I focused more minutely on cleaning up sentences. Tackling passive-voice problems builds up to a surprising amount of words.

HOW IT EVOLVED

Cutting is always difficult one way or another. The per-page cuts were more straightforward, though tedious. Did that sentence absolutely need to be there or was there a shorter way to say it? How many times did I really need to use “was” in a sentence, good lord? Did the inner monologue have to be that long? How do I make this description shorter, snappier? (The positive note to that is, I learned to take a much closer look at my sentence structure, a lesson that I can already tell is filtered into my drafting skills.)

Cutting entire scenes or sections was difficult in a scarier way. I didn’t want to do it. I couldn’t see the story without it, or loved the scene, even though my outline told me it wasn’t necessary.

oh hell no GIF

So, I started out by simply experimenting with removing it. To see how the story looked and how it felt. (I don’t ever totally delete anything, and just cut and put all my cut scenes into a designated folder.)

In the end, I think I ended up keeping all of the cuts. Because. When I got used to seeing how it looked, and I got over the “nOOOOOooo my baby,” it became clear why I loved those scenes. Maybe it was simply what the scene represented. Maybe it was just this one particular vivid image. Maybe I just liked the portrayal of a specific thing.

Once I understood that, I could creatively address how to keep the smaller piece I loved by fitting into scenes the story actually needed. In some instances it was as simple as merging a couple paragraphs to a crucial scene so I could still have that particular conversation/description/etc that I wanted to keep, but without needing all the words setting up for that particular moment.

Oh I Get It Britney Spears GIF

Example 1:

I originally had this scene where my main character proves her usefulness, and it’s a shift from “new character is naive in a new world” to “oh actually maybe she’s kinda badass??” It’s wasn’t necessarily important to the plot, but it was important for character development. I realized after some brain bending that I could fit the MC “helping” into a different plot-and-worldbuliding relevant scene. The initial scene didn’t need to be it’s whole thing. Doing this helped pick up the pace of the story in the middle.

Example 2:

In another scene that actually was important for plot reasons, I figured out how to reimagine it completely. I needed blackmail for one of my villains to use against the MC (so this one thing could happen, which lead to the other thing). Instead of creating that blackmail literally on page, I realized I could pull something from backstory (a flip of the show don’t tell rule). Even better, this backstory-blackmail ended up fleshing out a secondary character’s motivations and intentions that I’d been struggling with. It was one of those sublime everything-sliding-into-place moments. But I would have never realized it without pushing myself to streamline, cut word-count, and really focus on what the plot needed.

Example 3:

Some scenes I did end up just cutting. Most of those ended up being character pieces that weren’t attached to anything else, or filler scenes of conversations or worldbuilding explanations that weren’t, ultimately, that important. The one I remember the most was a funny and poignant scene conversation between two characters talking about life and trauma. While I was very sad to remove it in the moment, with distance I see the story works better without it (AND, silver lining, now I have an entry for my “deleted scenes” folder that I can share with someday-fans of the story who are just as thirsty for these character interactions as I am).

juno drinking GIF

Something else interesting happened as I learned to how to mercilessly cut for Story. I grew impatient with every scene that didn’t inspire me or stand out. Once I decided the impatience wasn’t just because I had to read the thing for the 1000th time, I started “sandboxing.”

Sandboxing is taking a scene and starting from scratch. I think this worked for two reasons. One, there’s that trick about rewriting a scene without looking at the old one, and the parts you remember are the parts that are important. But some of it was being able to reimagine how the scene could go without being stuck in the initial rewrite. Actually, I wrote about utilizing something like this before.

This process ended up being tricky, because sometimes the revised scenes ended up longer than the original scene. There was definitely some up and down with the word-count during that. But I was able to deepen what I really wanted in the story, which led to more ideas about what else could be changed.

dog puppy GIF

And wow, I’ve been carrying on for a while here, so let me bring this thing to a close.

A few months into this process I realized that my manuscript could fit as Adult in category, and maybe actually should be Adult considering where I want to take the book and series. Which is very convenient, as Adult sci-fi and fantasy can be closer to 120k words, instead of 100k. Also convenient I decided this as I hit 125k and wondered how on earth I’d be cutting it any lower.

Ill Handle It I Got This GIF by grown-ish

After some up and down word counts again, I’m at 126k words right now. I would like to get to 120k, but I decided I needed some outside help. I fell back in love with my story through rewriting so much of it, which is awesome, but also complicates keeping a clear perspective.

Thus, my beta-reading adventures have begun. If you’re curious, I’ve talked about some beta-reading culture problems here and how I attempted to address that here.

I hope this was helpful to y’all out there, or that it sparked some ideas on how to handle your own #wordcountproblems. I’m curious — have you had to cut a major amount of words from your manuscript before, and how did you do it?

We’ll be back, folks, in a month or two with the results of my second round of beta-reading! And then. Hopefully. Like actually querying.

I hope everyone is being kind to yourselves and taking time to feed your creative soul, whether that’s a nap, binge-reading, or taking a break. Talk soon!


The Point of Beta-Reading is Not to Ruin Someone’s Confidence

So as I delve into my first actually serious attempt at utilizing beta-reading, I wanted to talk about a particular problem I’ve noticed in the writing community. Maybe saying it’s a ‘problem’ is too inflammatory. But bear with me for a second.

Beta reading is someone’s amazing dedication of time to look over another’s writing and give feedback. Writers tend to be a my-art-is-my-child bunch, so this is an important step in fixing any issues that the writer may have not seen being so close to their story. From everything from sharing with close friends to swapping read-for-read with strangers on the internet, beta reading is a fairly well ingrained idea in writing culture.

But it really bugs me when someone sends out their manuscript to be beta-read, and the response just crushes their soul.

Photo Credit: Kelly Sikkema from Unsplash

Caveat: I’m well aware that some amount of negative reaction is normal when receiving criticism, especially when we’re talking my-story-is-my-baby writers. (*cough* me *cough*)

Especially when one writer is reading another writer’s work, it’s very easy to tell someone what to change and how. But I think it was Neil Gaiman who said: “Remember: when people tell you something’s wrong or doesn’t work for them, they are almost always right. When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.”

Art is subjective. It’s intrinsic and instinctive, and easily warped by influence. And I’m starting to wonder if the role of the beta reader is actually that well understood.

So here’s my premise:

A beta-readers job is not to tell somehow how to write something. Their job is to highlight their reactions to the author in an as unfiltered way as possible. Armed with that data, the writer can then figure out how to solve it, if they want to solve it, in their way. “I got bored here” or “this is fascinating!” or “this is the place I took my first break from reading” is actionable information that tells the author how the story pacing is going. Maybe there’s too much info-dumping. Maybe some scenes need to be moved to later. Maybe one person thought one thing and another thought the opposite, so the issue can be relegated to “you can’t please everyone.” The point is, it’s all up to the author and no one else.

(Of course this is all different if a writer asks for advice on how to change something. But that’s straying into the role of a critique partner, which is different.)

Maybe this is just me finally getting with the program of the rest of the world, who already knows about these pitfalls and what to do about it, but it felt like a significant realization to me. And I think it also explains why I’ve always half-assed the beta-reading stage before. I’m a soft marshmallow soul and I think it would be too easy to be tied into knots and warp my own creative spirit with the wrong influence.

The second part of my premise: I think this problem is partially on the writer. Handing over a manuscript with a “tell me what you think!” is going to cause a variety of responses. Readers may not even know what to say. Particularly if the reader isn’t used to that particular genre or style. While a lot can be gotten out of that, I think it’s really easy to fall into a pit of unhelpful or even harmful feedback.

It’s up to the writer knowing and asking for what they need.

Which brings this whole conversation to now (and about me again, sorry). After finishing up the revision process I talked about last time, I decided to buckle up and do this beta-reading thing for real. In an organized and structured fashion. Which means actually knowing what I need and guiding the eyeballs on my words to give me actionable feedback. So, I built a strategy with everything I’ve just talked about in mind.

Once feedback comes back, I’ll be writing another post on, you know, if this actually works or if I’m just being self-important. But the basics of my strategy are… actually pretty simple and obvious now that I think about it.

  • I comprised a bunch of questions based off recommendations and research.
  • I made a list of about a dozen trusted people.
  • I sent the manuscript and questions with an outline of what I’m looking for to said people.

The set up was actually the fun part, which I’ll go into detail next time. Mostly I just used Google Sheets and Google Forms… with some personalization. But I’m strangely proud of myself for the whole thing. It’s probably silly. But we’ll see what happens when it all comes together!

For now I wait. Until then, what are your thoughts? How about your experiences with beta-reading — either reading or sending a manuscript to be read?


Writing on Google Docs

So I started something new, this past NaNoWriMo (yeah, yeah, yeah, I’m like 5 months late, I know). What with working full time, the train not always having a seat during my commute, and being too exhausted after work to actually do anything creative, I’ve been frustrated with my writing progress. Recently, I started implementing a new writing tool that’s shifted my writing process. And it’s been interesting.

If you remember, I mentioned the newest twist in my writing career. Since then I’ve been determinedly working to rewrite and revise my manuscript, though it’s taking longer than I expected (who’s surprised?). The revision so far has been equal parts awesome and terrifying, as I wrote in my last post.

Last November, I decided that I should use the energy that NaNoWriMo inspires to get a chunk of these revisions done, as I knew a decent portion of the manuscript needed to be totally rewritten (new words = word count for NaNo). That being said, I also knew I’d need to implement a new writing process to make any progress, what with the above mentioned full-time job and general exhaustion.

So I started writing on my phone with Google Docs. On the train, in the bathroom at work, even sometimes at work if it was slow. I didn’t think I’d ever be someone who wrote on Google Docs, let alone my phone. I have a problem with not being able to see my whole manuscript at once, or bounce between sections if I need to, and the narrow-view of Google Docs (especially on a phone) sounded stifling.

I’d previously tried it out a few months earlier on a different project I was playing with, and had quite a bit of success with it. It was so nice to be able to write on the train when I didn’t have a seat, in the checkout line at the grocery store, or waiting in the car to pick up a friend.

But this other story I started from scratch, just let the fingers fly when inspiration struck. The manuscript I’m rewriting is 115k words and a complicated mess of plot-lines, emotions, and motivations. I needed to be able to jump between scenes and move around sections with ease in order to rip it apart and put it back together again.

But I wanted to try it. So I started implementing a bit-by-bit process. Instead of uploading the whole thing and slashing through it, I uploaded sections at a time that I knew I’d have to rewrite. I’d tear the scene apart, keep a few segments I felt were good, and rewrite the rest, using the skills I’ve gained in the past three-odd years. Then, at the end of the day, I’d paste whatever I’d finished back into the main document to save (and for word count purposes; which got tricky as I had to separate previously-written from now-written, but that’s another subject).

Churning out rewritten scenes was also helpful because writing transitions to merge scenes or fill in a hole of information is often a nice, concise section to get done when time is limited. It set up the time where I ‘sat down to write’ (on weekends or the rare evening where I wasn’t exhausted) very nicely into smaller pieces. Plus, there’s a satisfaction to getting a hole filled that isn’t found as much when writing linearly.

And honestly… that worked out really well for slamming out sections. For NaNoWriMo and getting a big chunk of the manuscript rewritten, it was perfect.

Then about two months ago I found myself in a sticky situation. I am ripping apart this manuscript, taking it in a new direction that (I hope) is both different and more true to the original story. But especially in the midst of NaNoWriMo, where I would skip brand-new sections where I didn’t quite know what I was doing yet, I left critical scenes unwritten. Reaching the culmination of those scenes farther along down (as I left big holes where things scenes were, to focus on rewriting scenes and slamming out word counts), I was patting around in the dark without the proper detail that those previous scenes would provide.

So I turned my attention back to those scenes I skipped before in my effort to keep up momentum. I needed to write sections that are whole new scenes intricately connected to the events around them. And this has made it much harder to utilize Google Docs as a tool.

I kept freaking out that that sections were going to ‘feel’ different, written in isolation from each other. Or the logic/thought processes won’t flow. Or. Or. Or.

I definitely flashed back to previous writing habits, where I had to see everything all at once or I can’t write anything ahhhh. When in actuality, I just needed to chill and get the damn thing on the page, and worry about smoothing it all together later. (In fact I’m pretty sure Delilah Dawson wrote a thread on Twitter about this, something about her #TenThings on first drafts.)

So for the past couple months I’ve been stealing snippets of time during lunch break or in the evenings to get things done, where I can see the whole document (I’ve been using Scrivener, if you’re interested). The process has been very slow, but it has been steady. It’s gotten me to a place where I’ve been able to focus big picture and figure more out about how the littler pieces fit into the whole.

Now the manuscript resembles swiss cheese. But, it’s pretty easy to tell what needs to be done to get it done. So it’s back to Google Docs again.

I think the trick is (at least for me) is organization. If I know the main thrust of what I’m writing, and how it fits into the chapter/arc/whatever, it really works. The method that seems to be working for me best is to copy+paste the whole chapter along with the ‘hole’ or section I need to work on. Then I have the lead up, which starts me writing, and where it needs to end, which helps me aim.

This works less well for me in a crux scene, where I have to weave several things into each other. If I can’t jump around to make sure I’m covering everything I need to and have all the details right, I feel metaphorically blind.

Yet in other cases, I think it’s been beneficial to write in the narrow-view of one-section-at-a-time. With only one scene to write on, it makes me focus. Despite my wanting to see-the-whole-story-all-the-time, that can end up fracturing my attention and making me spin in circles. With only one thing to focus on, I’ve got to push through. (I think this could also be used with something like Word or whatever you like, but at least for Scrivener, it’s too easy for me to bounce between sections and start spinning, as I mentioned.)

So after all of that, I wanted to try to condense my whole experience into something actually helpful. Here are some bullet points I think we can glean from all of this:

  • Organization is key
  • Don’t worry about the whole; focus on pieces at a time
  • Don’t stifle yourself to one tool if it’s not working; switch when needed

At the end of the day, like ANY writing advice, this is going to be helpful to some and not to others. It all depends on your writing process and how your creativity works. My hope is to give some ideas on how to use tools to your advantage, but this is entirely dependent on you!

And on that note… I’m going to go finish a fancy ballroom scene where my MC is wheedling an internship out of a hospital CEO so she can sleuth to where she thinks there are victims of her sister’s killer…


Published: Behind the Scenes (Oct. 2017)

Published_ Behind The Scenes.png

All right, the recap: I sold my alternate-history fantasy series almost a year ago now (wow) to Glass House Press. Since then, I’ve been detailing my journey of what goes on behind the scenes in the hopes that it will help people have a glimpse into the process. My publishing journey, of course, will be different than someone else’s — this is just one path.

If you’re interested, here is:

——————————————————

Since the prequel was back in the hands of my editor the past few months, I’ve spent most of the time working on other projects. I’ve talked before about the benefits of working on two projects at once (under certain conditions) and it’s something that’s slowly become part of my routine.

A mental refresh, if you will. Or a pallet cleanser.

Either way, it seems to be working. I have a clearer picture of the Obsidian Divide series now in my head. I even figured out a few elements about the world and even a few character quirks. (Unfortunately, they are details for farther along in the series versus the actual prequel that Editor and I are working on, but whatever. It’s new fun stuff, and I really ready to tackle the prequel again.)

Though now that NaNoWriMo has hit, most of my energy is focused towards my that manuscript. (If you’re interested, I wrote a short story related to the world that’s pretty dang interesting, if I do say so myself.) I could have worked on something related to Obsidian Divide, but until the prequel and Book One are firmly set developmentally, I’m worried about working too far in advance.

So I will be extra prepared to look at the prequel with fresh eyes when my editor comes back to me with edits.

In other news, I’ve been working on setting myself up branding and marketing wise. I had a designer build a logo for me a few weeks ago, and I might have another exciting branding project in the works here soon.

Otherwise, I’m really starting to think a lot about bloggers and reviewers. 2018 approaches, and the reality of needing to build buzz and get reviews and make people actually KNOW about my book is getting heavier. I’m starting to get a little paralyzed by the idea of all of it.

So! To try to head off this panic, I’m trying to be proactive.

For about the past year I’ve dinked around reading articles on marketing, listening to different marketing ‘experts’ about what to do, and signing up for all sorts of mailing lists. There’s a lot information floating around in my head, but unless I put it in some sort of order, it’s not going to help me very much.

(By the way I recommend to all of you to start reading information on marketing. Don’t get anxious, don’t think you don’t do ‘the right thing,’ don’t worry about changing anything right now. Just start digesting some of all the information out there. It’ll give you time to figure out what might work for you and get a grasp of the size of it all without it becoming overwhelming. I’ve talked a little bit before about marketing, specifically the branding aspect of it, which is pretty dang interesting, if I do say so myself.)

So! With some help (a buddy of mine who also has her trad-published-debut coming out next year is doing it with me), I’m going to start planning. Like, in a planner, with it all written out. I’ve even got a really awesome one picked out. I’ve been writing out notes, and sketching out general ideas of how they might fit for me, and trying to gather lists of influencers in my genre. But now I’m going to make A PLAN and put it together.

This plan primarily revolves making people even realize my book exists. Which means interacting with people who have a lot of interaction with other people who might want to read my book.

All while keeping up on my social media interaction and branding.

Which means, of course, ads, free stuff, guest blogging, interacting with influencers in my genres, putting the book all over Goodreads… and yeah, so much else I’m probably forgetting here.

Either way, I’m hoping that I’m going to have a real plan written out here by my next update. I think I might write another post here soon about a different segment of marketing as well.

Oh! And before I forget. I wrote a short story a while ago that actually has to do with my debut series. It’s actually a part of Book One, versus the Prequel which will come out earlier, and from a different perspective. But it’s really good, if I can say so myself, and you might be interested in reading it. Let me know what you think…

I hope you all have a wonderful writing week! 


Prequel Problems: Likable Characters

Prequel Problems with Likable Characters.png

So I’m writing a prequel to my INITIUM series, the first book tentatively due out in Fall of next year. I wasn’t sure I wanted to write a prequel, as the events in it are fun mystery details throughout the first book, and you learn about them and why my main character is the way she is as the novel progresses.

But, it’s a lot of information, and my editor thinks I need a prequel so readers aren’t lost and/or inundated with too much information right off the bat. So I’m writing a prequel. The first draft is almost done — I wrote the final chapter, but I also left a bunch of ‘holes’ in the manuscript, scenes I felt I was forcing too much at the time, to come back and complete later. I’m writing those scenes now.

My biggest frustration so far is that a lot of the events in the prequel are what make my main character interesting in the first place, so before the events happens, my characters are…

Not that likeable. Actually, they’re coming across like spoiled little brats. Which goes with the territory, are they’re the daughters of a rich upperclass businessman — but I’m really worried it makes for some difficult reading. Or apathy about reading them, anyway.

And if people don’t want to read the book for your characters, they’re not going to read the book.

Fortunately, characters being likeable isn’t so important as characters being interesting.

Unfortunately, I don’t think my main character is either at the beginning. Perhaps I’m being too critical, because I’m so used to her, 5 years later, being a snarky badass. Or maybe I just haven’t written from an insecure 14 year old’s perspective for so long it’s hard to believe that readers will really connect with her voice and struggles…

I believe my main character is interesting (and even likable) by the end, but if the beginning doesn’t hook someone, then it’s kind of a moot point.

I’ve also never really written ‘on contract,’ or written a character arc from the very beginning like this, so I might just be out of my depth and scaring myself (I’ll be writing about this whole process here soon).

I’ve also never really written a prequel (at least something this big), which I’m beginning to understand has it’s own difficulties. Not the least of which is writing a character that you know… but isn’t the fully formed character of the later book who is probably more interesting in first place.

Either way, I’m becoming more thankful that I have an amazing editor who’s excellent at developmental editing, because I’m going to need some perspective on making this work. I think I’m too close to this character, or the character arc in general, or too concerned about the ‘writing of a relatable 14 year old’ to just write the 14 year old. I was a 14 year old. I remember. Why I be making this so hard.

Anyway, it will be educational to see what my editor suggests going forward. And I feel a little lazy, looking to my editor for direction instead of figuring it out myself. But the truth is, I’m still pretty shaky on what revisions really need to look like, which is my real fear. I don’t know if I’ve fully ever revised a manuscript in it’s truest meaning, so my skill level there is… dismal.

So there’s some anxiety about my meh-characters not becoming interesting enough with this lack of skill.

Anyway, this is all a moot point if I don’t have the draft done in the first place! I’m off to finish those few more thousand words. I want this draft done by the end of this month (which gives me like two days). It’s going to be far from perfect — but all that’s left are a few holes to make this thing complete.

 

Stay tuned for the regurgitation of my thoughts about writing my first ‘on contract’ piece… in a week or two.

 

Questions? Comments? Similar anxiety-rants?


Published: Behind The Scenes (Feb 2017)

Published- Behind The Scenes.png

Welcome to the February 2017 edition of Published: Behind the Scenes, where I talk about all the fun things that happen to get my book on the shelf.

If you missed the introduction post or the post from January, they can be found here and here.

Without further ado, see below!

February has been a rush (and I was all worried I’d have nothing much to share!). I got my first professional edit letter from my publisher. You know, ever. Which is a huge thing to begin with anyway, but then on top of that, it was developmental edits, which I have zilch experience with.

I don’t know if you’ve ever had developmental edits done with a professional editor, but I was surprised to realize that most of the work is done almost entirely from the outline. From the outline, the plot, stakes, and connections between scenes are all assessed to make sure that they all forwarded the plot and they’re not just a bunch of loosely connected points.

Which, in theory, seems straightforward.

(Why does it always so seem straightforward on paper or after the fact…)

The biggest complication to this whole process was that my outline was very unclear. Most of my themes and points were too vague or seemed unconnected, because I wasn’t writing out how they were connected or the details which made it relevant, which made it difficult to, you know, assess all of that. On top of that, since there’s a bit of a mystery element in the novel, I’d definitely not explained everything.

I know you’ve probably all heard this person, but seriously, don’t be mysterious when talking to your editor. Tell all the secrets. Get your point across. I didn’t even realize the things I hadn’t shared because I’m so used to them being secrets for books later on — but you need to tell your editor!

But overall, there was some definite face-palming on my end as I realized yet again… I hadn’t explained that… which was why everybody was so confused. I’ve always used outlines just as a general structure, and a way to jog my memory and keep me on path. I don’t know if I’ve ever actually written a detailed outline like what is actually called for in this situation.

But anyway.

The first run through of my outline mostly involved my editor and I getting on the same page of understanding. On top of everything else, I’ve been playing a little loose with the rules and structure of storytelling, so she gave me a crash course in understanding the basics.

To which I was like — but yeah I’m this AMAZING thing where I break the rules. Haaaa. Yeah right.

The biggest worry at the beginning is that there doesn’t seem to be enough at stake. I was relying on the intrigue of the world and all the questions I pose to drive the start… but that’s probably not going to be enough. There needs to be tension, a sort of deadline — not necessarily the world ending, you know, but something.

So, more stuff in the beginning, tension-related stuff. Which seems so simple and straightforward and I don’t know why I didn’t get that before. Probably because I was so focused on how cool I was using mystery and questions to drive parts of the plot.

So, the somewhat counterintuitive conclusion that came out of this: I need to write more. My 109k word novel needs more words.

To continue with the theme of my not explaining enough, my editor also thinks I started the book too far into my main character’s arc. The initial trigger, or catalyst, to make her this answers-driven rebellious intelligent fiend, is something that’s learned as the book progresses, but isn’t known from the beginning. My editor is concerned there’s too much explanation that needs to be written in the first chapter because of this. Mostly because I created a really complex world.

To which I’m like: but… but… I like my subtle hinting and clues for all the answers! (which isn’t a good enought answer, in case you were wondering)

But anyway. The result of all of this, is that I’m writing a prequel novella.

This prequel will show how my protagonist got to where she is in my first book: all the themes and important points that had to come together to form her after the catalyst of her sister’s death. It’s also going to introduce the world, taking the pressure off the first book to get everyone on the same page within the first chapter. We’re working through the outline of that as well (hey, I’m learning how to be a plotter and write from an outline!), and I should be starting actual writing on it in the next few weeks.

Some part of me feels the prequel is redundant, that everything is already said in the first book, at least mentioned if not explained. But I’m also discovering (well, building) a story that’s a lot bigger than what I’d initially had in my head, and it’s giving me time to build the world out with more clarity.

If this prequel definitely happens, it’s going to be weird releasing it first versus the actual book. I’m definitely having anxiety it won’t be interesting enough, that releasing a novella first instead of a full length novel as my first book ever is bizarre. But that’s probably just anxiety about releasing anything anyway.

For fun, I’d like to share the progress that my outline has gone through so far. Just to provide a little context to what I’m talking about.

This is the first chapter in the outline originally:

Chapter One:

The book begins with Fairian sneaking out of the house. It’s obvious she’s waiting for something, and she gets attacked, and then saved by Daimyn. Excited by the new lead, Fairian asks questions. He warily answers before warning her off coming out at night, and eventually knocking her out in an attempt to scare her.

As you can tell, there’s not much there. It made perfect sense to me, because I have all the themes and connections in my head. And here’s what it is now:

Chapter One

Fairian sneaks out of the house to find a creature – now that she’s in the new city of Farfalla, which is swamped in intrigue and mystery, she thinks she may have luck getting answers about her sister’s death. Mixed with descriptions of the city, there are brief mentions of backstory that give a glimpse into world structure, family life, and how long she’s been on this quest.

She gets attacked by a strigoi, and ‘saved’ by a mysterious man. While she’s peeved about the loss of the strigoi, she realizes that this man knows something, and asks questions. He warily answers a few questions before warning her off her search and eventually knocking her out in an attempt to scare her.

I imagine the first chapter will go through further edits, but for now, it’s clearer. I’m itching to get into the actual content of the first chapter instead of just talking about the content… but clarifying on what the chapter needs to be is helpful, I will admit.

After the first chapter, there’s some change to the plot itself. Because the second chapter needs to further tension and get the plot going with a goal (my original goal not quite ‘big’ enough), the original chapter two was too slow. This is besides the fact that the outline was, again, not nearly clear enough in what aspects, tensions, and themes are being developed out at that point.

So here’s the second chapter initially:

Chapter Two:

Fairian wakes up in her own bed, her maid announcing her new martial arts teacher was arriving. She meets Mr. Kearney and he agrees to teach her. Afterwards, her best friend Tiffany and her decide to go shopping: this reveals more about Farfallan history and make-up, and Fairian mentions more on the Environmental crisis.

How does that even explain anything? Seriously, it seems so obvious now that this outline is NOT clear enough.

Now, alongside clarification, there’s a new aspect to drive the plot forward:

Chapter Two

Fairian wakes up in her own bed, and decides the Mr. Mysterious from last night must know things, and she’s going to track him down and beat the answers out of him if she has to. She interviews with Mr. Kearney, a local martial artist, who agrees with teach her. It becomes obvious she’s been taking defense lessons for a while, in response to wanting to be able to protect herself. While it seems her father is reluctantly supportive of this, her mother makes it obvious that it was a BIG battle to even have an interview – and she’s upset about Fairian’s new instructor, thinking the move to Farfalla would end that ‘unladylike hobby.’

At lunch Fairian sees an article in the newspaper that reminds her of what happened when Fairian and her sister were taken. Her mother nitpicks at Fairian’s clothes, posture, attitude, etc (probably exacerbated because of losing the battle about the martial arts instructor) until in frustration Fairian agrees to go shopping for clothes appropriate to this part of the world — privately thinking she can sneak away and track down more information about the news article she saw. Their family ward and her best friend, Tiffany, comes along with. The drive to the market gives a glimpse into some environmental history and Farfallan culture.

Putting up with her mother’s ministrations for only a while, Tiff and Fairian manage to sneak away and head to the Central Library to search the news of the past few years. She finds out that many people have had strange psychological breaks where they supposedly saw their nightmares come to life, and they’re all sent to the same mental hospital. Starkly reminded of her past, Fairian sets getting into the hospital as her next objective.

As you can see, that was a heck of a lot clearer. Also, the issue with the people stalked by their nightmares and the mental hospital was originally a plot point much further in the book. Since a more pressing goal was needed to get the plot moving more quickly (beyond finding out who the mysterious character is in the first chapter), I moved it up and changed it around a bit. So far I feel pretty happy with it.

I’m having brief struggles with feeling possessive over my story and like it might be being changed too much. But, I will admit, finding my own ways to fix whatever problem is there has been a tad fun. And seeing improvements in my manuscript has been neat.

It’s a balance, between sticking true to the story you want to tell and letting more knowledgable people guide you on what needs to be changed. It’s definitely been tense and a little nerve-wracking as my baby is being pulled apart and put back together, but good overall.

Thoughts? Questions? Comments? Have any of you gone through developmental edits like this? What was your experience?


Drive and Depth: Debating My Least Favorite Writing Rule

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 12.56.11 PM.png

I’m coming to the uncomfortable conclusion that I need to cut a lot from the second in the series I’m writing. I continually waffle back and forth depending on the day, of course. But there is a thread of truth in the idea that I’ve written content in this book that doesn’t drive the plot forward.

Does is portray intriguing characterization? Definitely. Rich emotion and relationships? Oh, yes. Interesting dynamics and world building? You betcha. Forwarding the particular thread of plot for this novel? Well…

It is the second in the series. So some parts of me say, there’s leeway! People will care about these characters now (as it is the second book), so they’ll want to read about these fun interplays that delve deeper into the dynamics of the world and how the characters fit into it (and each other)! Then I’ll bring in the real clincher for this novel, and off we go.

But the more I read, the more I get the feeling I really need to start cutting. Or, somehow, shorten the scenes I’ve written. There seems to be a lot of advice being churned out — or maybe I’m just now paying attention to it — about how every scene needs to drive the plot forward, to build on the scene before it.

I think I’m pretty good on the building from previous scenes. If the difficult of extracting one of my scenes without collapsing part of the story is anything to go on, I’m good at that part. But not all the my scenes necessarily drive the plot forward.

But then part of me wonders — what does that really mean, drive the plot forward? Sure, you’ve got the main storyline of what occurs that hopefully follows a theme, maybe teaches a lesson, hitting upon human moments and concerns. But then there’s this whole nebulous character part of it.

Characters are what drive the story. Characters are what make readers actually care about the story. But to have characters, you have to have characterization, growth, interplays and dynamics. Which I absolutely adore, both as a reader and a writer.

So how much characterization is too much? How much of the book can be character focused, and how much solely plot?

I know the aim is to weave both of these together, so they seamlessly slide into each other and catapult the whole story forward. So maybe my real problem is learning how to do that more effectively.

But that can’t be quite right, because I still have 148k words on this mammoth of a book, and even if I did still start the ‘action’ earlier and weaved everything else in later, that’d still be the word count. So I’m back to — too many scenes that involve just characterization.

Which brings me to my second complaint of the rule that all scenes must move the plot forward.

When I started writing, I was fascinated by making everything real. Real emotions, real interactions, real situations (well, as real as you can get with dragons flying around). While I’m not as obsessed with it now as I was then, there’s still a part of me that yearns for a plot to not be so straightforward.

Real life has dead ends. Clues that aren’t clues. Unfortunate bunny trails. Long walks that turn into long conversations that no one quite remembers fully, but they know what it felt like. Boredom. Confusion. Unclear motives. Self-loss.

I’m not advocating long drawn out scenes about doing dishes or being stuck in traffic for an hour. That’s boring. There’s a difference between relaying boredom and being boring. But at some point, I get bored with scenes that do nothing but drive forward. Life is fuller than that. Life has more mystery and more depth.

I want to stop and savor. Enjoy the world I’m immersed in. Really get to know the characters, and feel what they feel. Pick apart their minds and their motivations, and curl up inside their heads.

But. Too much can mean a story that drags.

So. Where is the line, do you think? Between plot and character; between drive and depth? Where do you draw your line in this tug of war?


Oh Canada, Oh Canada…

So I’ll be gone for two weeks! My parents are taking my sister, my partner, and I up to Canada, to some city I can’t spell to save my life (the French, man), but it’s 2 hours North of Montreal. I’m pretty excited about that. Then we’re heading to a cute town called Poughkeepsie, and then we’ll be finishing our train ride to New York!

It’s going to be great. I turned in my FicFest revisions a week or two ago, and my mentor just gave back my first chapter and synopsis — and I’ll be getting the whole manuscript here in a few days. The deadline to get everything in is the 30th of June, so I’ll be finishing up all those revisions on vacation!

I’m kinda excited for that. I’m hoping that the first week of vacation will be relaxing (and adventurous, but relaxing). As much as I love my goats, I’m looking forward to not having to worry about waking up early for chores. I can sleep in, and mentally be a spaz, go exploring, and revise to my heart’s content!

I probably won’t be posting here for the next two weeks. Unless I feel the need to share the wonderful things I’ll be experiencing. But you should probably follow me on Twitter for that.

Getting on a plane at midnight! Now to get all my chores and packing done in time…


Staying True To Your Story: A #FicFest Update

When revising your manuscript with an editor, how do you handle all of the changes when it can feel like the story isn’t yours anymore?

Well, first you have to look at that sentence and realize it’s misleading. If you’re making a change (based on advice, your own realizations, or aliens controlling your brain), it’s still YOU making the change. It’ll be your words, your expression, your ideas on how to implement it.

A while ago I read that you can’t copyright ideas in fiction. The only thing that is truly ‘yours’ is how you use your words. Which, if you think about it, really makes sense. Because if only one person had the copyright on dark mysterious vampires I’m pretty sure the paranormal romance market wouldn’t exist.

Kidding! Kidding. Seriously, there’s a lot of other neat stuff in the genre, but you see what I mean.

But I’ve found myself thinking about how ideas are formed and implemented during this wonderful/stressful/crazy revision part of FicFest. Ideas are just a mixture of the things I’m working out in my own life and what I ‘feed’ myself based on what I’ve read, but they become so close to our hearts. Unfortunately, we don’t really get to ‘own’ that part — not to mention the fact that the publishing process is going to rip my manuscript apart, anyway.

It’s easy to become enthralled and hyper-focused on your manuscript. And when you have an idea of what revising is going to look like in your head, and then it’s totally different, it can really put you off balance. Especially when you look at it all at once, like I said in my previous post.

However, the past few weeks I’ve taken my own advice, and carefully looked at each suggestion individually, and only one at a time, and made changes as I saw fit.

Honestly, I ended up implementing almost all of her suggestions. Because when looking at them individually and not letting my ego interfere, they made sense. And oftentimes I found that, bizarrely, when I made one change, it made her next suggestion divinely ‘fit.’

For example: It was suggested that I move a scene to earlier in the story. It was a simple move, not one that sent me down ‘ohmygodifImovethiswhatwillhappen’ street. In the scene, the magical version of the CIA approaches my MC with a job offer. Originally, I had it later in the story, alongside a bunch of other scenes to create a sense of ‘oh crap all these people know about the connection to xyz event she’s stuck now.’ Moving that scene made sense, not only because it made more sense for the CIA-like character (they approach her more covertly), but because it spiced up another section.

But because of it’s new placement, a new theme just magically fell into place: Blackmail.

All of sudden, from neither my mentor’s suggestion nor my own pre-planning, there was this new tension. The ‘job offer’ took on a life of it’s own and started changing the rest of my story, shifting character motivations, creating issues that were both good and bad. It changed a trust dynamic with two individuals completely.

At first I kinda freaked. ‘What? No! That’s not how I want my story to go! Crap! I’m going to have to take out the blackmail part and –‘ and, and, and.

Incidentally, as I was talking about above, this change magically fit into another suggestion by my mentor: I needed more tension in the second half. There wasn’t a direct obstacle to my character’s goals.

Originally, that’s kind of what I wanted. Look my character is finally succeeding with this thing she’s been obstinately fighting for for half the book — WHAM, climax, look at this creepy bad guy you knew was coming but hoped wouldn’t, MWAHAHAHAH!

Weeeeell. Yes. But.

I stuck to my plan at the beginning of this thing, that I was going to try on everything my mentor said, and I could always change it back if it really wasn’t right. I continued on with this new ‘blackmail’ element and wrote it out for the rest of the book.

Oh look at all the new delicious tension that my MC has to deal with!

Probably manifesting my own opinion on the matter, my MC frantically ignores the whole thing. LALALLALA it doesn’t exist hahaha I’m so kidding myself. Then, in a moment of vulnerability, she screws up.

Cue ‘all is lost moment’ — (which my mentor also said needed to be a bit more punchy, so, HELLO, two things fixed with just one scene change, wtf?). MC thinks she’s lost what she’s been fighting for this whole thing. Evil bad dude comes out of nowhere to ruin the day (okay, week). I added in a bit threatening what she values most in the world — independence — and voila!

Much heavier all is lost moment.

Am I freaking out that my story has changed A LOT and is this still my story oh my god I had to change so much around I suck as a writer?

Abso-freaking-lutely!

I found myself struggling with my writing identity: I must suck at this, to have so much change.

Now reread what I just wrote up above with the scene change. What did I say? Oh yeah, the whole thing that followed was all my work. My mentor didn’t specifically suggest blackmailing my MC. She gave suggestions that, considering marketability and the structure that keeps readers interested, could improve my manuscript.

My original scene move (which I completely agreed needed to happen and I don’t know why I didn’t think of it myself) didn’t leave me nervously not knowing the balance between keeping true to oneself and taking good advice.

Everything that followed, followed naturally. I wrote it. Did it fit into a whole bunch of her other suggestions that I felt nervous about implementing? Magically, yes.

Was it because my mentor said so, or because it just ‘fit’? Does this mean that there’s just a divine formula for book structure that happens naturally? Was I influenced by my mentors suggestions when I was rewriting?

Does it matter? The real question is: Is this still my story?

You bet your cute butt!

So my advice to you is this: Own those revisions! No matter the source. They are yours. And if they don’t feel like it, make them your own.

Do you have any crazy revising stories to share? What writer-y lesson have you stumbled across lately? 


Rambling Advice on Editing: #FicFest Update

I have zero desire to write this blog post, but I’m doing it anyway. I skipped/missed last week’s post, somewhere between laziness, picking up my (almost) mother-in-law for her month long stay, and furiously editing my manuscript for FicFest. So as I write this week’s, and I figure as long as I keep rambling, something will come out.

That’s what they say about writing habits every day, right? Just start writing anything, and the flow will come.

But anyway. Let’s talk about FicFest updates.

I received my edit letter almost a week ago… wow, has it been only a week? Yikes. It feels like it’s been longer. Anyway, I got the edit letter, and it’s been a little bit like having free access to crack ever since. It’s impossible to pull away. I’m definitely editing on the sly at work. I’ll find myself reading over her edits and making changes for hours and don’t even remember how I got there. It helps that she’s so freaking smart and spot on about everything.

I’ve run into my first problem, however: knowing the difference between a good change that improves my craft and story, and knowing when a change will alter the ‘heart’ of my story too much. I think it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of comments by a mentor, an editor, a beta reader — whatever you’re happening to read over in that moment.

I don’t really know the answer to this yet, but I have gotten some great tips from writer friends and family.

My first piece of advice, coming directly from me, is this:

Read through all the advice and suggestions. Then, take a step back. Take each edit one at a time, and only that one at a time. Take the one suggestion and work only on that until it’s done (and maybe give yourself a time limit if you’re a super-perfectionist). Don’t try to do everything at once as you’re moving through your manuscript.

 

I started with finishing the line edits, and have just moved onto the overall suggestions; right now I’m working on making my setting more vivid (and ONLY on the setting). Once that’s done, I’m moving onto making a particular character from the past have a little more influence on the future, to not be quite so shrouded. Then I’ll be working on this one character quirk that needs to be further explained.

Do you see what I mean? Focusing on one aspect makes it a lot easier to digest and implement. I’m finding I’m not nearly so overwhelmed, and I can see each comment more clearly as what it is: advice, and intelligent suggestion.

Another piece of advice that really rung true for me was this:

Take each suggestion at face value (again: only one at a time) and look at it through the lens of what story YOU are trying to tell (you’ve probably heard this advice a hundred times, but for some reason this really hit me as helpful).

Be open to all suggestions and improvements. Consider everything carefully, after a few days to digest the comments you’ve received. Come at your story after a deep breath and a step back. Determine what kind of story comes across to the reader, and if it’s the story YOU want to tell. Some suggestions may change the story to feel like something else, or the characters to be like other people. It could be good. It could be great. Or it may change something too much.

Don’t cut off your nose in spite of your face, but keep true to the story you are trying to tell.

 

Does anyone else struggle with finding this balance? What’s your method to work it out? How about my FicFest friends, how are you all doing?